Did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer? It’s true. There are more cases of skin cancer each year than all other forms of cancer combined! Most skin cancers are caused by the sun or manmade types of ultraviolet UV rays like tanning beds.
So, how can you and your summer program participants stay active and healthy outside without getting too much exposure to UV rays? Read on to get some tips for sun safety.
Some terms you should know:
UVA and UVB Rays
Light that reaches us from the sun is made up of long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and short wave ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA rays can reach us any day whether it is sunny or not. They can go through clouds and even glass. UVAs are most common, making up about 95% of the rays that reach the earth. These rays pass through our skin deep into the dermis, which is the skin’s thickest layer. You may not feel a sunburn from the UVA rays but exposure to them can cause wrinkling, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer.
UVB rays are shorter and will typically burn the topmost layers of your skin. They also play a large role in the incidence of skin cancer. Intensities of UVB rays vary according to time of year, geographic location, and time of day. The peak UVB hours are from 10AM to 4PM.
You will want a sunscreen that protects you from BOTH types of rays, not just one. This is known as “broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB rays). In order to have broad-spectrum protection, the UVA protection should be at least 1/3 of the UVB protection. Most sunscreens that have high SPF offer way more UVB than UVA protection, and give wearers a false sense of full protection.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
The strength of the sunscreen is known as the Sun Protection Factor, or SPF. This factor measures the fraction of UVA rays that will actually reach your skin. So, if you have an SPF of 25, that means that, assuming you apply it at the recommended thickness, if you typically start getting burned in 10 minutes, you now won’t get burned until 250 minutes, or 25X longer than without sunscreen. Most dermatologists recommend somewhere between a 15 and 30 SPF. Going higher than 30 SPF does not really offer significantly greater protection, so it’s wise to go no higher.
The UV Index is a measure of the amount of UV in the sunlight reaching the planet’s surface at a certain location, time of year, and under current conditions. It is expressed in terms of the risks of exposure to that amount of radiation. You can typically find it in the local paper or online at www.epa.gov or you can find an app for that.
So now you know a little terminology, what can you do to prevent damage to yourself and the kids in your program? Here are the most effective methods of keeping UV exposure to a minimum without becoming a hermit or coming out only at night.
Choose Your Outside Time Wisely
As I mentioned before, peak UVB hours are from 10 am to 4 pm. If you can keep outside activities to a minimum during these hours you will be a sun-blocking hero. However, due to the hours of your program/camp, you know that may not be possible. So…
Dress for Less (Sun that is)
If you are really trying to protect yourself from the sun, the general theory is “more is better.” You’ll want long sleeves versus short; long pants rather than shorts; and a wide-brimmed hat (3” around) covers your face, ears, and scalp better than a visor.
You’ll want a tighter weave fabric with a good UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor. It’s just like SPF but for clothes). A typical cotton t-shirt has a UPF of only around 6. For sun protection, it is recommended clothing have a UPF over 15. (From 15-24 is good, 25-39 is very good, and 40+ is excellent.) There are all kinds of companies that sell clothing with high UPF that are comfortable and are compatible with being physically active. Teach your kids about UPF and allow them to bring and wear over-shirts and hats when you take them out to play.
Offer a break from the sun by setting up a variety of shade canopies and umbrellas in areas where kids eat, rest, and play. Providing shade structures can reduce direct sun exposure and help prevent heat exhaustion from too much sun.
Provide some good, quality broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15-30. Squeeze a blob into their hands and have participants apply to their face and any other exposed areas before heading outside. Or, try sunscreen towelettes for an easy on-the-go option.
If for some reason the kids will be outdoors for more than 2 hours, bring more sunscreen with you so they can re-apply. Don’t skimp on the amount of sunscreen for each kid. Most people don’t use near enough. It should be about 2mg/cm2 of skin or 1 ounce for full body coverage.
Your Future’s So Bright, You Gotta Wear Shades!
Don’t forget to protect your eyes! UV rays can cause all sorts of damage including cataracts and macular degeneration. Wear sunglasses that block ALL types of UV rays. Don’t focus too much on fashion and fads when it comes to saving your eyes. Get wraparound frames that fit close to your head and will allow far less light in than most shades. You’ll look like an athlete even if you’re just walking the fields! If your kids have them, allow them to wear sunglasses, too. They aren’t just for looking cool, but for the health of their eyes.
Make it a Habit
Like physical activity, where a little bit here and there adds up, your exposure to the sun does the same. You need protection everyday, not just days where you will be outside for hours. Ten minutes here, a half-hour there, it all accumulates to do damage to your skin. So, make it a habit to wear sunscreen on exposed skin every day.
When taking kids out for activity, take a minute or two for everyone to get ready: shirts, hats, sunscreen, sunglasses. After a few times it will be a habit and they’ll do it without even thinking!
Don’t Forget to Add Water!
In addition to taking care of skin and eyes, you’ll also want to protect against dehydration and other heat-related maladies. Be sure to have plenty of water available for your kids to drink when they are engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity whether outside or in. Use a large water cooler and encourage kids to bring reusable water bottles from home that can easily be refiled during the day. Provide water breaks every 20-30 minutes, depending on the weather, so they can re-hydrate.
With summer fast approaching, be prepared for the sun in all its glory. Don’t let it stop you from getting your participants outside and active. Be sun-wise this summer and save your skin from undue stress and damage.